Best practices are not always.

motorcycle safety

Paying attention to what the best riders are doing and then putting those techniques to use makes for a successful life in motorcycling. – Jeff Allen


“It’s the Wild West out there,” the gentleman commented. His assignment was to establish a rider-training direction for a group of riders, and his comment referred to what he had seen and heard during his monthslong, nationwide research. The information he gathered was wildly divergent and bewildering.


And it could be bewildering to new riders too. At ChampSchool we often introduce riders to techniques that are directly opposite of what they previously learned or understood. Straight-line braking versus trail-braking, for instance. What is best and safest? Notice that I didn’t ask, “Who is right?”


Industry growth based on improved rider safety through best-practices techniques isn’t a who’s-right or who’s-wrong question, or at least it shouldn’t be. We should all be interested in pursuing excellence on two wheels because mistakes can be devastating to a person and industry. As the gentleman referred to in the first line soon learned, there were a wide variety of techniques being taught, and some made little sense outside the parking lot. How does a rider discern best and the rest? Should our industry move to determine best practices in rider training or continue with the Wild West?


Best and Safest

Best riding practices must equate to safest riding practices and makes sense when we add, “…at the pace you choose.” Safest at the pace you choose. That means a curriculum must provide safety at the pace the students choose; it can’t just work for riders who never accelerate. As the pace increases, the safety margins shrink and the technique choices narrow.


As a riding instructor, I have learned to teach to the highest level I can imagine, whether that’s a Superbike in the rain with the TC fuse blown or a downhill right-hand corner that tightens and you’re in too quick with your daughter on the back. Maybe you pop over the hill and traffic is stopped; maybe the road is freshly graveled; maybe it’s your first trackday and it’s raining. How about when you leave the dealership on your new tires and it’s 36 degrees, or if a deer jumps the guardrail… You get the picture. I’m not teaching for who the rider is today or even for the venue we currently inhabit—I’m teaching for the time when everything counts.


Question No. 1: What’s the Leader Doing?

New riders will receive a lot of advice, almost all given in good faith. A litmus test for any advice is to see if that approach is being used to win roadracing championships or create high-mileage veteran street riders. Notice I didn’t write “used in roadracing” or “employed by street riders’’ because we must be much more specific about who is using the technique.


A roadracing champion has the ability to ride consistently quickly, sometimes less than one-second-per-lap more quickly than their competitors, but consistently so. We should care what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. If advice we are given isn’t being used by the racers at the front, file that advice further down the priority level and keep looking for answers. We don’t care what most riders do, we care what the best riders do.


A high-mileage veteran street rider has seen a lot and survived through approaches that should be imitated. Poor techniques don’t stand the test of time and miles, so advice from a casual, part-time street rider should be taken with the knowledge that time and miles have not yet tested that approach.


Street rider

Street riders should look to high-mileage veterans—poor practices don’t stand the test of time. – BMW Motorrad


Successful people learn from other successful people—you have done that all your life. Employ this approach in your riding and be sure to test advice against this simple question: Is this what the best are doing?


Question No. 2: Does That Make Sense?

You’re a 16-year-old at a new-rider school and the instructor stands next to their gigantic motorcycle with 40 years of riding experience and tells you what to do. You do it—you’re a kid and they’re an expert. But while doing it, ask yourself this basic question: Does that make sense?


If it doesn’t make sense to you, raise your hand and ask more questions. The instructor’s explanation (and hopefully their demonstration) will enlighten you to the correctness of the technique, or show you that the technique is not well thought out. It could be a curriculum problem, a communication problem, or an understanding problem. But it’s a problem. Store that problem in your mind and search elsewhere for answers. There are answers.

In my opinion, the endeavor of riding a motorcycle is extremely straightforward and logical. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. It isn’t a mystery or dark art or voodoo science known only to a few in the club. In your search for answers, the truth will hit you strongly—it’s that logical. When you hear something that doesn’t make sense, ask questions and get explanations; if it fails to become truth, keep looking.


Question No. 3: Have You Examined a Motorcycle and a Top Rider?

We look at the pair of relatively narrow tires and realize traction wouldn’t be difficult to lose if we’re abrupt. We note the suspension travel and see that the suspension must get loaded before the tire gets loaded. We look at pictures of bikes braking and accelerating and see the vast difference in tire contact patches between the two actions. Because of this loading, we know that using the front brake and the throttle at the same time is a recipe for disaster.


lean angle

Look at the front suspension as the rider enters the turn—it’s loaded so that the tire can be loaded. The rider is smooth in their actions and is trailing off the brakes as the lean angle increases. – Brian J. Nelson


Pictures show us the importance of lean angle and we remember how we steer our bicycles, with bar pressure. We see our racing heroes with their weight to the inside of the bike and try that too. During onboard footage we hear the gentle throttle initiation of the best riders and realize that the announcer saying, “He grabs a handful of throttle!” is wrong. We listen and learn that acceleration can safely increase only when the bike stands up off the corner and know that our friend is wrong when he says, “accelerate through the corner.” We see the riders’ fitness and focus on TV. We see how clean the machines are at the front of our local club races.


We see the high-mileage veterans in full gear, head to toe. The reliance on their bikes brings almost religious maintenance. They don’t beat on their tools (bikes) with burnouts, wheelies, neutral revving. They are one with their bikes as they cover great swaths of the country in single sittings. They are calm, focused, and gentle, with bike mods aimed at making the joy of mile eating more comfortable and pleasurable.


Watching the onboard brake and throttle graphs in MotoGP we see how top riders trail-brake pressure into corners; how finely that red brake graph reduces pressure; and how gingerly the green throttle graph begins. We see how even current champions go out for every minute of practice; we realize how technically they approach the sport, sorting through problems that hurt lap times or cause crashes.


Stop. Look and truly see. In this study, a study which requires only you and the skills of observation, you can build your riding expertise by skipping over the disasters that await riders with unproven approaches.


Whether you are examining your favorite roadracing champion or a high-mileage veteran rider you respect, you will find that they ask a single common question: “Will these techniques work consistently at the pace I choose?” Those who don’t work hard to positively answer that question have quit riding or will never win a championship.


As an industry, our ability to provide a positive answer to this question is one of the steps to increased growth; new riders become lifelong riders with a toolbox full of proven best practices.


More next Week!